Rabbinic Despair and Simple Courage

by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo

An extraordinary statement in the Talmud offers us a glimpse into the frame of mind of the Sages immediately following the destruction of the Temple, the murder of hundreds of thousands Jews, and the complete breakdown of Jewish life in the ancient land of Israel:

By right, we [the sages] should really decree upon ourselves to refrain from marrying and bringing children into the world, thus passively allowing for the seed of Avraham to disappear. (Baba Batra 60b).

Nothing can better describe the total despair of the rabbis than these very words. Once they realized that the remaining small remnant of the people of Israel was exiled and forced to live in violent anti-Semitic societies, they concluded that there was no longer any hope for a better future. So why continue to suffer, if fading into oblivion could be their salvation?

Still, relates the Talmud, against their initial instincts, the Sages did not issue such a decree. They realized that the Jews of those days would not give in to that state of mind. Instead, they would oppose their leaders’ arguments and decide to rebuild Jewish life wherever possible and whatever the circumstances. And, indeed, so it was! The ordinary Jew did not subscribe to the rabbis’ despair. In this they showed unprecedented courage. With no country, army or finances, and surrounded by millions whose hatred towards Jews was well known, these people found the strength to marry and raise families. Despite the total collapse of Jewish life, they opted for the impossible. Yes, it was these ordinary Jews who decided not to listen to their leaders but to continue building the nation of Israel, as they had previously been taught by the very sages who now despaired. Sometimes, the simple man has more faith in the Jewish future than the greatest Talmudic scholar.

In a similar vein, the book of Yirmiyahu tells the story of Yerushalayim under heavy siege by the Babylonian army. Famine and plagues had already caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Yirmiyahu, known as “the prophet of doom,” was thrown into jail by King Tzidkiyahu after having predicted that the city would soon fall and the king himself would be captured (Yirmiyahu 32: 1-5).

To Yirmiyahu’s utter surprise, God appears to him in jail and reveals to him that his cousin Hanamel will come and offer to sell him his field in Anatot, near Yerushalayim. Soon after, Hanamel indeed appears making the offer, and Yirmiyahu, realizing that this is God’s will, buys the piece of land, signs a contract with his cousin and buries this document in the ground so as to preserve it. Thereafter, he announces: “For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says: “Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in the land” (ibid, verse 15).

It is utterly astonishing that at that time, when Jews lived under disastrous conditions, one simple Jew approached Yirmiyahu—the very prophet who had persistently prophesied that a terrible calamity would befall the people of Israel—and dared to challenge him and suggest that he buy a piece of land in Israel! No doubt this field was surrounded by dead corpses and situated in a war zone that would not allow the new owner to even come and have a look for himself. Who would ever think of selling, let alone buying?

Indeed, it is not Yirmiyahu who is the hero of this story; it is his unknown cousin Hanamel. After all, Yirmiyahu was told by no less than God Himself to buy the land, how could he refuse? But Hanamel had heard no word of God telling him to sell. From where did he have the courage to even suggest such a transaction?

Absolutely nothing would stop Hanamel from continuing with his life, buying and selling, with the absolute knowledge that one day everything would fall into place and a beautiful Jewish life would be restored in the land of our forefathers. Today may be a disaster, but tomorrow will be full of joy. This is the unprecedented faith of Hanamel to which even the prophet of doom had to yield.

And so it is today. After the Holocaust, in which six million Jews died, and as the threat of violence in Israel and beyond continues to plague the Jewish people, young Jews, instead of falling victim to despair, are marrying and building new families, establishing careers, and learning Torah as never before. They are the Hanamels of today.

Sometimes, rabbis would do well to listen more closely to their flock. Sometimes, there is wisdom beyond the written word and all logic. Sometimes, the rabbis are drowning in too much knowledge, and the simple folk may be able to rescue them.

As taken from, https://us11.campaign-archive.com/?e=ea5f46c325&u=001429d2ea98064eb844c6bf8&id=71dd74fd35

The Death of Cain. The World’s First Murder

by Rabbi David Fohrman

George Frederic Watts RA, The Death of Cain

The Death of Cain, ca. 1872-1875
George Frederic Watts

Does the one who brings death into the world deserve protection from God?

How did Cain die?

We don’t know for sure. The Bible doesn’t tell us. But the sages of the Midrash had something to say about the matter. Working with various clues from the Biblical text, they patched together an account of how the man who committed the first murder met his own demise.

The story they tell is bizarre and haunting. At face value, it borders on the absurd. But Midrashic stories are not necessarily meant to be interpreted at face value. They often use the language of allegory to point to deeper, underlying currents in a story. For all its improbability, then, the story the Midrash tells about Cain’s death may be quite “truthful” indeed.

Let’s begin our look at the Midrashic elaboration with an eye towards the Biblical clues that it is based upon. As near as I can figure it, these are some of the issues that nudged the sages towards their view of how Cain died:

An Unexplained Fear

The Torah records that after Cain killed Abel, the Lord imposed a number of punishments upon Cain. In response, Cain turned to God and expressed his concern that his own demise will not be long in coming:

And Cain said to God, “My sin is greater than I can bear… anyone who finds me will kill me.” God replied to him, “Therefore — anyone who kills Cain will be avenged seven-fold,” and God placed a mark upon Cain, so that all who find him would not kill him. (Genesis 4:13-15)

The Lord has not posted any “Cain: Wanted, Dead or Alive” signs around the neighborhood. So why is Cain so worried?

We might ask: Why, exactly, does Cain feel so vulnerable? It is true that God has imposed a number of punishments on him, from difficulty farming to exile, but He has not decreed that Cain deserves to be killed. The Lord has not posted any “Cain: Wanted, Dead or Alive” signs around the local neighborhood. Why, then, is Cain so worried? Moreover, who exactly are these other people that Cain fears will do him in? The world’s aggregate population was pretty tiny at the time. Besides his parents and Mrs. Cain, there weren’t too many others around. Who, really, is Cain afraid of?

Rashi, grandfather of the medieval commentators, is bothered by this question. His answer, which originates in the Midrash, is that the killers Cain feared were not men but animals. That is, Cain was worried that, in the wake of his act of murder, a beast might devour him.

Does Rashi solve the problem? Well, perhaps he explains who might kill him, but he doesn’t seem to explain why. Why would Cain all of a sudden worry that animals would kill him? God didn’t command animals to avenge Abel’s blood. What’s more, if Cain had the means to defend himself adequately against the animal world before he killed Abel, he presumably had these same capabilities afterwards, too. Why, all of a sudden, does he become afraid?

The Mystery of “Seven-Fold Vengeance”

So Cain’s fear of death is one oddity — but it is not the only one. Another strange thing is God’s response to this fear, his promise to Cain that whoever kills him will suffer sevenfold vengeance. Why, for starters, would God want to promise such a thing to Cain? It is one thing to soothe Cain by telling him that he will be protected from would-be-killers — but why extend to Cain, a murderer, the assurance that one who kills him will be punished seven times more severely than the crime warrants? God didn’t extend this courtesy to Abel, the innocent victim of murder. Why extend it to Cain, Abel’s killer?

And there’s another problem, too: What exactly does “seven-fold vengeance” really mean? Presumably, the worst thing God could do to a killer of Cain, by way of vengeance, would be to kill that person himself. But that’s not sevenfold vengeance — that’s just plain vanilla vengeance — a simple tit-for-tat. Where does the “seven” part fit in?

A New Theory

A strange verse, tucked away at the end of the story of Cain and Abel, may hold the key to answering these questions.

Just after the Torah tells us of Cain’s punishments, it goes on to give a long list of genealogical tables. We hear all about Cain’s descendants — who gave birth to who, and how long they lived. Many might wonder why the Bible felt it necessary to include all this apparently trivial information. But if you stop and actually read these genealogical tables, you will find something curious: The Torah goes into a great amount of detail about one particular family, a family which appears at the very end of the chain of descendants. We are told the names and professions of each child, and then, strangely enough, the text quotes, verbatim, a short and cryptic declaration made by the father of these children.

In that speech, the father speaks about having killed a man. And he also speaks of the “sevenfold vengeance” of Cain, as well as vengeance that will be exacted against him, this latter-day killer. And what’s more, if we bother to count all the “who-begat-who’s” in between, we will find that this mysterious mention of murder occurs precisely at — wouldn’t you know it — the seventh generation removed from Cain.

An interesting possibility begins to unfold. Maybe these verses are describing, somehow, the carrying out of the mysterious vengeance of Cain. Maybe the phrase “sevenfold” didn’t refer to the severity of the vengeance (that someone would be killed seven times over) but to the time at which it occurs. Maybe the promised vengeance would take place after a seven-fold lapse in generations, and maybe this is precisely what we are reading about at the very end of Cain’s genealogical table.

Such a possibility bears, at least, further exploration. So let’s take a closer look at these strange events that occur seven generations removed from Cain. What, in fact, happened at that promised “seventh generation?”

The Lemech Connection

Only a few details are clear. We are introduced to a man named Lemech, and we are told that he has two wives and four children — three boys and a girl. We know their names. The three boys are Yaval, Yuval and Tuval-Kayin, and the girl is named Na’ama. Yaval becomes “the father of all shepherds and tent-dwellers.” Yuval becomes the “father of harps and cymbals” — i.e. the inventor of the first musical instruments. And Tuval-Kayin is the inventor of ironworks, the first to fashion metal weaponry.

The Torah then tells us that one day, Lemech convened his two wives, and made a strange speech to them:

Listen to my voice; wives of Lemech, hearken to my words: For I have killed a man to my injury, and a child to my wound. Yes, sevenfold was the vengeance of Cain; and Lemech, seventy-seven. (4:23-24)

Lemech’s declaration is difficult to decipher, to say the least. He talks about having killed a man and a child, and refers, strangely, to the promise of his ancestor’s sevenfold vengeance. What does he mean to say?

The Sages Parable

The sages of the Midrash gathered the various puzzle pieces of this story, and constructed a parable that seeks, I think, to give meaning to it all. And it is here that the Midrash tells us how it thinks Cain died. According to the Midrash, here is what happened:

Lemech was a seventh generation descendant of Cain. He was blind, and he would go out hunting with his son, [Tuval-Kayin]. [His son] would lead him by the hand, and when he would see an animal, he would inform his father, [who would proceed to hunt it]. One day, [Tuval Kayin] cried out to his father: “I see something like an animal over there.” Lemech pulled back on his bow and shot. … The child peered from afar at the dead body… and said to Lemech: “What we killed bears the figure of a man, but it has a horn protruding from its forehead.” Lemech then exclaimed in anguish: “Woe unto me! It is my ancestor, Cain!” and he clapped his hands together in grief. In doing so, though, he unintentionally struck Tuval-Kayin and killed him, too. (Tanchuma to Genesis, 11)

What exactly was Cain doing parading around the forest in a unicorn costume?

What a strange story. We hear of a hunt gone awry, with a blind Lemech shooting arrows at the beck and call of his over-eager son, little Tuval-Kayin. We hear of an elderly Cain being mistaken for an animal, walking around with a strange horn protruding from his head. What exactly was Cain doing parading around the forest in a unicorn costume?

One thing seems clear, though. According to the sages, the “man” Lemech killed “to [his] injury” was none other than Cain, and the “child” he struck “to his wound” was his own son, Tuval-Kayin. If we put two and two together, the Midrash seems to be saying that when God talked about “sevenfold vengeance” for Cain, He wasn’t talking about punishing Cain’s murderer. Instead, God was talking about punishing Cain himself. He was promising that Cain himself would be killed in vengeance for Abel’s murder — but that this would occur only after a sevenfold lapse in generations.1

The Advent of the Unicorn

So where did Cain get that unicorn costume from? Why did he have a horn, of all things, sticking out of his forehead?

It is time to revisit, one last time, the story of Adam and Eve in Eden — the story where the cascade leading to Cain and Abel first begins.

We noticed a while back that the Cain and Abel narrative is speckled with connections between it and the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden. A triad of consequences — exile, difficulty farming, hiding from God — beset mankind after they eat from the Tree, and these same consequences reappear, only more intensely, after Cain kills Abel. The Torah, as we noted, seems to be saying that the Cain and Abel episode is a further chapter in the story of the Tree of Knowledge; that Cain’s act of murder was fundamentally similar to Adam and Eve’s eating from the Tree. It was just another chapter in the same saga.

If we had to boil down that saga to just a single, simple sentence — what would we say that these two, linked stories, are about?

They are about, we might say, what it really means to be a human being and not an animal.

In Eden, humanity was accosted by the primal serpent — an animal that walked, talked and was apparently an intelligent being. The snake was very nearly human, and earlier, we argued that the challenge the snake proffers to humanity touches on how we define ourselves in relation to him — that is, “what makes us human and him a snake.” The snake begins his words with: Even if God said don’t eat from the tree, [so what?]. God may have told you not to eat of the tree, but those words are belied by your desires. Do you want to eat? If so, God is talking to you through that desire. He put those instincts inside you, and you obey God by following them.

Animals follow God’s will by obeying their passions, their instincts — the “voice of God inside of them.”

In making this argument, the snake was faithfully representing the perspective of the animal world. The dividing line between man and animal, we argued, lies in how one perceives that God “speaks” to him. Does God speak to you in the form of commands, or in the form of desire? Animals, such as snakes, follow God’s will not by listening to God’s words, His verbal commands, but by obeying their passions, their instincts — the “voice of God inside of them.” The snake, quite innocently, holds out the possibility that perhaps man should adopt the same approach. The voice of desire, for an animal, always reigns supreme.

In the act of reaching for the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve succumbed to the snake’s argument. In buying the argument that, for man too, one’s internal desire could be the final arbiter of God’s Will, mankind lost a little bit of who he was, and became a little more snake-like.

In the wake of that failure, God punishes all the relevant parties. The snake’s “punishment,” though, is particularly interesting. He is told that from then on, he will eat dust, will crawl on his belly, and that hatred and strife will henceforth reign in the relationship between his progeny and the children of Eve. The common denominator in these three punishments of the snake seems evident: The snake will become more obviously different — a being that crawls rather than walks, a being that subsists on food that men would never touch; and a being whose sight and presence registers instinctive alarm and enmity in the collective psyche of humanity. The snake will become more obviously animal-like, more clearly removed from the realm of man. Having failed once to distinguish himself from the animal world, mankind will no longer be faced with as subtle and dangerous a temptation.

But man’s struggle to define himself in relation to the animal world is not yet over. The story of Cain and Abel was a further battle in the same war — a war centered on how man is meant to relate to the passions, the creative will, that surges inside of him. Cain became enamored with his ability to create in partnership with God, and became entranced by the products of that enterprise. In the end, he sacrificed everything — his relationship with God, and the life of his own brother — on that altar. As the verse suggests, he had in effect used Abel’s blood as fertilizer for the ground. The life of a brother had become a regrettable but acceptable casualty of Cain’s continuing, intoxicating quest to bring forth life from the ground. Blind desire had once again had its way.

In the wake of that basic failure, Cain intuited a self-evident truth: He would now fear the world of beasts. Not because beasts would be interested in avenging Abel. But simply because they would perceive that Cain really was not all that different from them. The days of comfortable distance from the world of the jungle were now behind him.

Cain pleads to the Almighty for protection from these newfound threats. And the Lord accedes to the request, giving to Cain a mark that will protect him from those that would molest him. We wondered earlier why it is “fair” that Cain, a murderer, would merit special protection from death at the hands of others. But that mark, the Midrash is saying, was not some “supernatural” sign promising heavenly retribution to anyone who would harm Cain, nor was it some artificial device that would convince the animals that Cain really was a human to be feared after all. Instead, the sign, as the Midrash tells it, was a simple animal’s horn. Having become vulnerable to his new compatriots in the world of the jungle, it is only fair that Cain be given a horn, the same means of defense available to any other beast.

In a savage twist of irony, it is precisely the horn given to Cain for protection that does him in.

In a savage twist of irony, though, in the end it is precisely the horn given to Cain for protection that does him in. Little Tuval-Kayin sees Cain’s horn and immediately assumes that he has sighted a beast. Upon closer examination, though, the boy isn’t so sure. The body of the figure is man-like and he can’t figure out whether the being he killed is man or beast. He can’t tell, perhaps, not because he can’t see well — that’s his father’s problem, not his — but because the identity of his prey really is uncertain: Cain has crossed into the no-man’s land between man and animal. Cain, the person who feared he would be killed by an animal, is killed because a person couldn’t tell whether he was, in fact, man or animal.

The Child and the Blind Hunter

The story the Midrash tells is interesting not only for the way it portrays Cain, but for its view of Cain’s killer as well. The image of Tuval Kayin and Lemech, the child and the blind hunter, is a memorable one. To fully understand its significance, I propose we take a quick look at the larger, extended family.

Tuval Kayin, the child weapon-maker, has two brothers — men by the names Yuval and Yaval. If you replay the names of these three siblings over in your mind, they should sound vaguely familiar. Yuval, Yaval, and Tuval Kayin. What do they remind you of?

Well, to tell the truth, if you are used to reading the Bible in English, they may not remind you of much. But if you switch to Hebrew, the resonance in these names is unmistakable. The Hebrew original for the word “Cain” is Kayin — a word that reappears in the appellation given his descendant, Tuval-Kayin. Likewise, the Hebrew name for “Abel” is Hevel or Haval, which sounds suspiciously similar to “Yaval,” the brother of Tuval-Kayin.

The resemblance goes beyond names, too. Just as we are told the professions of Cain and Abel, we are told the professions of Tuval-Kayin and Yaval, too. And wouldn’t you know it — the professions adopted by these seventh-generation descendants bear an eerie similarity to the arts practiced by their forebears. Cain/Kayin was the word’s first killer — and Tuval-Kayin, his namesake-descendant, makes weaponry. Abel/Haval is the first shepherd in history, and his namesake-descendant in the seventh generation, Yaval, is the “father” of traveling herdsmen.

These connections did not go unnoticed by the sages of the Midrash. The rabbis commented about Tuval-Kayin, for example, that his name signifies that “he perfected [metavel (1)] the arts of Kayin.” Cain killed without benefit of tools; Tuval-Kayin comes along and, by forging weaponry, gives the art of killing a technological boost. One can argue that Yaval, the seventh-generation heir to Haval/Abel, does likewise: He “perfects” the art of Abel. Abel, the ancestor, grazed his flocks, but Yaval pushed the envelope further. As Rashi puts it, he — the “father of herdsmen” — constantly moved his tents, transporting flocks from pasture to pasture, to ensure a virtually never ending supply of grassland. (2)

These “great leaps forward” all take place in the seventh generation from Cain and Abel. Seven, in the Torah, is a number laden with symbolic significance. It often signifies completion — the bringing of a process to its culmination. God finished Creation in “seven” days, bringing the Universe to its finished state of being. After forty nine years — seven times seven — we celebrate Yovel, the Jubilee year, in which “freedom is proclaimed throughout the land.” Everything attains a new homeostasis, everything achieves a new balance: Debts are forgiven and slaves are released from servitude. Here too, at the end of seven generations, the lines of Cain and Abel reach their “perfection,” their final fruition.

In the case of Cain, that destiny bears ominous overtones. His seventh-generation descendant, Tuval-Kayin, the metalworker, takes the art of killing to new and more powerful levels — levels that would have been unimaginable to Cain himself, the ancestor of it all. But such is the way of things. We don’t always have control over forces we put in motion.

Cain is powerless to stem the lethal forces he has begun to unleash — forces that culminate in the personage of Tuval Kayin. But ironically, Tuval Kayin and Lemech — the new killers — are, in their own ways, just as powerless as well…

The image of a child weapon-maker leading around his blind father on hunting expeditions is comedic but chilling.

When you get right down to thinking about it, the partnership of Tuval-Kayin and Lemech has to be the craziest hunting duo one can possibly imagine. Tuval-Kayin spots a leopard at a hundred paces, and calls out the coordinates to his father. Lemech, who can’t see a blasted thing, wheels around sixty degrees to his left, takes a moment to calculate range and trajectory, then lets his arrows fly. The image of a child weapon-maker leading around his blind father on hunting expeditions is comedic but chilling. Neither the father nor the child is in control. Neither is quite aware at the awesome power they so irresponsibly wield. Both are powerful engines — but nothing of consequence guides either of them.

Three Blind Men

A quick survey of blind men in the Bible turns up an interesting pattern. Lemech, according to the Sages, was blind. Isaac, towards the end of his life, suffered from failing eyesight. And so did Eli, the high priest mentioned at the beginning of I Samuel. Sensing a commonality here, the sages of the Midrash commented:

Anyone who raises a wicked son or trains a wicked disciple, is destined to eventually lose his eyesight…

The sages are not doctors, and the observation they are making, arguably, is not medical in nature, but spiritual. Why would a father who raises wicked children eventually become blind? Perhaps the sages are not talking about the physical inability to see, but an emotional blindness — a deep-seated unwillingness to see. Isaac can’t bring himself to face the true nature of Esau, and Eli can’t bear to face the sins his sons commit. These otherwise prescient fathers are blind to what is obvious to all others around them. When reality is too cruel to see, the best among us can easily make ourselves blind to its horror.

In the view of the Midrash, Lemech — like Isaac and Eli — is blind. It is not so much that his son is evil — after all, Tuval-Kayin is but a child — but the dangers of his craft are entirely lost on the oblivious father. There is a kid out there making sawed-off shotguns, and instead of restraining him, Lemech invites little Tuval out for hunting parties. Lemech can easily rationalize the deadly arts of his son — after all, it is not guns that kill people, but people that kill people — and if all my kid does is make the swords that others use… well, that’s a good, clean living, isn’t it? The mandate of parents is to guide their children, but in this case, it is little Tuval-Kayin who is the leader, guiding — with devastating inaccuracy — the arrows of his blind father.

The seventh generation is the apogee — and the generations of Cain are slowly spinning out of control. Tuval-Kayin really is, “Cain Perfected.” Cain failed to rule over the raging passions that beset his soul, and Lemech failed to rule over the raging power of his young son’s killing machines. Seven generations from Cain, nothing has changed; it is just the stakes that have gotten higher. The legacy of the forbidden fruit is alive and well. Mankind becomes ever more snake-like, as raw power, left to its own devices, consistently overwhelms its bearer.

The Second Lemech and the Wife of Noah

The children of Lemech are the last descendants of Cain that the world will ever know. The great flood — the ultimate destruction of humanity — is right around the corner. A glimmer of hope, though, beckons to humanity.

Right after the Torah finishes telling us of Cain’s seven generations of descendants — indeed, immediately after Lemech’s disastrous pronouncement of “seventy-seven times vengeance” — the Torah tells us something fascinating. We hear of a second chain of generations, which begins with the birth of a child named Shet (see Genesis 4:25). Shet was a third son born to Eve, a son born after Cain killed Abel, and the text tells us that Shet, in Eve’s mind, constituted a replacement of sorts for her murdered son, Abel (see 4:25). Interestingly, the list of Shet’s descendants is introduced with the words: These are the generations of Adam — as if to say, somehow, that these are the real generations of Adam. And they really are. After all, Abel was murdered and had no children. Cain’s children are wiped out after seven generations in the great flood. It is really only this last child, Shet, who allows the generations of Adam to continue in perpetuity. For, as the verses go on to tell us, Noah — the saving remnant of humanity — is a descendant of Shet.

Strangely, as you begin to go through them, the descendants of Shet sound a lot like the descendants of Cain. For example, Cain has a descendant named Metushael, and Shet has a descendant named Metushelech. Cain has a child by the name of Chanoch; and Shet has a descendant by the same name. Curiously, Shet’s immediate offspring is a child named “Enosh,” a word which has come to mean “man,” and the child of Enosh is Keinan — a word which seems a variation on Kayin/Cain. It is as if Shet’s own line of heirs contains a mirror of Adam himself, and a mirror of Adam’s son, Cain.

Well, it can’t come as too much of a surprise that, seven generations after Enosh, this second Adam — we are greeted with the birth of a child named… you guessed it, Lemech. (3) In case you missed the point, this second Lemech just happens to live to the ripe old age of — seven hundred and seventy-seven years. So, when all is said and done, at seven generations, each line — the line of Adam I and Adam II — come to their apex. But whereas the first Lemech gives birth to Tuval Kayin, a son who becomes a partner in the destruction of life, the second Lemech gives birth to a son who will allow for the perpetuation of life. The child of Lemech II is a man by the name of Noah.

While the three sons of Lemech I die in a flood, the child of Lemech II builds an ark. And yet, while the children of Lemech I perish in that flood, the legacy of Lemech I is not erased entirely. One of his children, according to the sages, survives. According to the Midrash, Na’amah — the sister of Tuval-Kayin — becomes the wife of Noah.

So a daughter of Lemech I survives by marrying the son of Lemech II. In that union, humanity comes full circle. The doomed line of Cain merges with a spark of life from Shet — the man who, according to Eve, was a replacement for Abel. At long last, the legacies of Cain and “replacement Abel” have come together, as a father from one line and a mother from the other unite to create Noah.

When we look back on Cain and his legacy, it is easy to disregard him; to feel that mankind is better off without having to deal with the wickedness he manifests. But evidently, Abel — or his replacement — is not enough of a foundation upon which to build a New World. Cain, for all the danger he brings to the table, is a necessary partner. Somehow, mankind needs the energies of both Cain and Abel — ground, coupled with nothingness; possession, bound together with breath — to move on, to build itself in perpetuity. And so it is that — in the personhood of Noah and Naama — under the life-saving roof of an ark, a fragmented humanity finally gains a semblance of unity, just as the storm-clouds of apocalypse gather on the horizon.


(1) In Hebrew, “metavel,” or “one who perfects,” is the verb form of the word “Tuval.”
(2)The middle brother, Yuval, seemingly has no analogue in the Cain and Abel saga, in which there were only two brothers. We might speculate, though, that his name — Yuval — seems to be a cross between Tuval-Kayin and Yaval. Indeed, his craft — the making of musical instruments, might be seen as a cross between the pastoral profession of shepherding, and the technological innovations of metallurgy and practical tool-making.
(3)In elaborating this point, Rashi notes a grammatical oddity in the verse in question and suggests that the phrase “whoever kills Cain / sevenfold he will be avenged” should actually be read as two entirely separate statements, one referring to avenging Cain — the other, to avenging Abel. First, God states “whoever kills Cain…,” and the rest of the thought is left unsaid, implying an unspoken threat: “Whoever kills Cain … well, we won’t even talk about what happens to him.” As for the rest of the phrase, “sevenfold will he be avenged,” Rashi suggests that this refers to the way Abel’s killer will be avenged. That is, the verse is telling us that Cain will eventually have to pay with his life for killing Abel — but that he has a seven-generation grace period before vengeance will do its ugly work.

As taken from, https://www.aish.com/jl/b/eb/ca/48950551.html?s=mpw

Deuteronomy: The World of Covenant

Image result for Devarim
by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

The unique covenant on display in the Book of Deuteronomy.

Covenants are an essentially secular phenomenon. They existed in the form of agreements between states in the ancient Near East. Fundamen­tally a covenant is a peace treaty. It can exist between states of roughly equivalent power, in which case it is a parity treaty. But it can also exist between states of radically different power, in which case it is called a suzerainty treaty. That is the story of Exodus and Deuteronomy, in which the Jewish people make a covenant with God.

This was revolutionary. Covenants were common in the ancient Near East. But covenants between God and a people were unknown, indeed inconceivable. It was unimaginable that God would seek to constrain His own powers in the name of righteousness and justice. It was unfathomable that a supreme power would make a treaty with any people on earth, let alone the supremely powerless.

The key covenant was made at Mount Sinai, as described in Exo­dus 19–24. This in principle should have been where the Torah reached its culmination. But it turned out not to be so. Despite the fact that the Jewish people agreed three times to accept the terms on which God was to become their sovereign, it was not yet ready for such responsibility. That is the significance of the story of the Golden Calf.

Bereft of Moses, unsure what had become of him, the Israelites sought an oracle, something to tell them what to do and what to become. They were still in an age of magical thinking in which people do what the gods require and gods produce the outcome the people desire. That is not what the biblical covenant is about. It is about the acceptance of respon­sibility. It is about being guided by the experience of history, not about having responsibility for history taken from the people and assumed by God Himself. Covenant is supremely an ethic of responsibility.

That is why there is a long hiatus in the story of the Exodus. The people have to learn to fight their own battles. They must discover that God is a force within, giving them strength, rather than a force outside that fights their battles for them. They must discern the God who is close – within the camp – and not one who is distant, who performs miracles, liberates the Israelites, brings plagues against the Egyptians, sends the people water from a rock and food from heaven, and divides the sea for them. God has to be in the midst of the camp, not just at the top of the mountain.

That is, in essence, what the biblical story from Exodus 25 to Numbers 10 is about. It tells us that to have the Divine Presence within the camp, close, not distant, a special ethic has to apply: the law of holiness. That demands a Sanctuary, with all its associated laws. Above all, there must be no confusion or con­flation between the domain of the holy, which is beyond time and mor­tality, and the secular, the ordinary, the world of mortality, marked as it is by death, disease, disfigurement, and defilement. The holy must be a radi­cal break with the merely human. That is the basis of the laws of sacrifice and sanctity that take up this long diversion, comprising the last third of Exodus, the whole of Leviticus, and the first third of the book of Numbers.

All of this was the consequence of the Israelites seeking not just God-as-King, but also God-as-Presence. The key words here – Mishkan (Sanctuary), sh-kh-n, the verb “to dwell within,” and the rabbinic Hebrew word Shekhina, “Divine Presence” – all have to do with the idea of closeness and intimacy. A shakhen is a next-door neighbour. The Isra­elites sought God in the midst of their collective life, in the town square, as it were. This too is part of what Deuteronomy is about: a society wor­thy of being a home for the Divine Presence.

What then is the significance of this Mishneh Torah, this repeated and renewed covenant, over and above the one made at Mount Sinai and described in Exodus 19 to 24? The short answer is: responsibility.

We have met covenants before. God makes one with Noah. He makes a further one with Abraham, and He makes a third with the Israelites at Sinai. But notice the difference. The covenant with Noah is entirely unilateral. God speaks, issuing certain rules, and nothing more is required from Noah himself. The covenant with Abraham is more demanding in the sense that Abraham himself has to perform an act – namely circumcision – for himself and the male members of his family. The covenant with the Israelites at Sinai is more demanding still in that God insists that Moses indicate the nature of the agreement to the Israelites, and only when they agree, which they do three times (Ex. 19:8; 24:3, 7), does the covenant have force.

But note that all three covenants begin with an act of divine initiative. The fourth, which comprises the whole of the book of Deuteronomy, is undertaken by human initiative. It is Moses who rehearses and recites the whole content and context of the covenant. That is why Deuteronomy is the turning point in Jewish history. It marks the move from divine initiative to human responsibility. With­out Deuteronomy, the Israelites would not have made the necessary move to becoming not merely God’s subjects but also His partners in the work of redemption.

As taken from, https://www.aish.com/jl/b/eb/Deuteronomy-The-World-of-Covenant-.html?s=hp9

¿Como Hemos Sobrevivido?

por Yossi Goldman

¿Cuál es el milagro más grande de nuestra generación? ¿La caída del comunismo? ¿La transición política pacífica en Sudáfrica?

Seguramente para nosotros, indiscutiblemente, el milagro más grande debe ser que tras el Holocausto el pueblo judío se levantó y reconstruyó la vida y las comunidades judías. No hay nada más extraordinario que los judíos, quienes fueron señalados para el exterminio a causa de su fe, ¡sin embargo quieren abrazar esa fe y seguir siendo judíos!

Esta semana entramos en el período de los Nueve Días que nos llevan a Tisha BeAv, nuestro Día Nacional de Duelo. Recordamos la destrucción de nuestros dos Templos y oramos para que Jerusalén sea restaurada a su anterior gloria.

En Ejá, el Libro de las Lamentaciones, que leemos en Tisha BeAv, hay un versículo (3:22) que dice “La bondad de Di-s seguramente no ha terminado, no se ha agotado Su misericordia”. Rashi da una interpretación alternativa de que fue por la bondad de Di-s que no hemos llegado a nuestro final. En las palabras del Midrash “Descargó su ira sobre madera y piedras” de la estructura del Templo —Su casa fue destruida, pero Su pueblo sobrevive.

Por lo tanto es un momento apropiado para reflexionar acerca de la supervivencia judía. Frente a la desaparición de todas las grandes civilizaciones e imperios de la antigüedad —Egipto, Babilonia, Grecia, Roma, Persia y, más recientemente, el Tercer Reich, ¿cuál es el secreto particular de la supervivencia judía? A pesar de las destrucciones y diásporas, no obstante los holocaustos que nos han diezmado a través de los tiempos, ¿cómo hemos sobrevivido? ¿Cómo sobrevivimos? Y, lo más importante, ¿cómo sobreviviremos?

Por supuesto, la respuesta simple es que Di-s nunca permitirá que desaparezcamos. Vivimos por los permanentes milagros de la intervención Divina. Pero hagamos un rápido recorrido por la historia para ver si podemos señalar como al ingrediente más importante a nuestra increíble tenacidad de espíritu.

Algunas personas pueden decir que es nuestra tierra el elemento clave de nuestra continuidad. Realmente Israel es nuestra patria eterna y oramos por el Retorno a Sión tres y más veces al día. Es el centro de todas nuestras creencias, es nuestro corazón y nuestra alma. Nos une, dondequiera que estemos y dondequiera que hayamos estado. Está en nuestros sueños, esperanzas y aspiraciones.

Pero, mientras que nunca renunciamos a nuestro reclamo eterno por ella, la realidad es que estuvimos lejos de nuestra patria más tiempo que lo que estuvimos en ella. El hecho es que, aun hoy, hay más judíos desparramados por el mundo que los que hay en Israel. Así que por más intransigentemente comprometidos que estamos con nuestra patria hoy y con lo crítica que es para nuestra talla y seguridad global, la geografía no pudo ser el factor principal en nuestra supervivencia a lo largo de la historia.

¿Es quizás un idioma en común? Es verdad que el hebreo es nuestro idioma nacional y aun es el idioma de nuestro Libro de Plegarias. ¿Pero no hay personas leyendo estas líneas que no podrían leerlas si estuvieran escritas en hebreo? En realidad la vasta mayoría de los judíos de hoy no hablan hebreo y me estremezco al estimar el porcentaje de judíos inteligentes que son judaicamente iletrados.

A lo largo de la historia tenemos variados idiomas vernáculos. Arameo, griego, y hasta árabe, fueron una vez los idiomas más populares de las comunidades judías. En las generaciones más recientes, el idish o el ladino, como hoy el inglés, fueron los vehículos preferidos de comunicación de la mayoría de los judíos. Simplemente no podemos afirmar que un idioma común es el factor preponderante en nuestra continuada e in-interrumpida existencia.

¿Qué pasa con la cultura? ¿Alguna vez intentaron ofrecerle a un judío sefardí guefilte fish? ¿O a un judío asquenazí cuscus? La comida y la música son las piedras angulares de toda cultura: ambas varían marcadamente entre oriente y occidente. Una persona que regularmente asiste a la sinagoga en Golders Green se encontraría probablemente perdida en una sinagoga en Singapur. Y viceversa. Hablando honestamente, realmente no tenemos una cultura en común. Hemos adaptado muchos matices de estilo en comida, música y vestimenta de las sociedades que nos albergaron. Efectos del entorno.

La única y sola característica absolutamente común a todo nuestro pueblo en todos los tiempos, la única entidad unificadora que ha ido más allá de las fronteras, a través de los continentes, las culturas, los idiomas y las formas de vida ha sido la Torá. Tanto sea Israel o Babilonia, Minsk o Madrid, Sidney o San Francisco, Johannesburgo o Jerusalén, la forma de vida judía como está encerrada en nuestra santa Torá y sus mandamientos, ha sido el único elemento más importante para mantener el espíritu judío vivo y vibrante. No una especie de vago, sentimental sentido del “Idishkait”, sino un claramente definido sistema de valores que ha sido transmitido fielmente a través de las generaciones dondequiera hayamos vivido.

La prueba más clara de esta idea es el hecho de que donde ha habido un abandono de las tradiciones de la Torá, inmediatamente siguió la asimilación —y con consecuencias trágicas. Esos bolsones de judíos simplemente no han sobrevivido.

Por supuesto Di-s es el hacedor final del milagro de la supervivencia judía. Pero acá no es acto de magia. Di-s nos ha dado el secreto. Sostenemos Su clave en nuestras manos. El ser judío por nacimiento no garantiza ninguna clase de supervivencia. Sólo donde hubo un compromiso concreto con el estudio de la Torá, con enseñarla a nuestros hijos, y con el cumplimiento de sus prácticas eternas, se pudo ver que ocurrió ese milagro.

Que nuestra dedicación a la Torá crezca así la supervivencia judía y el florecimiento de la vida judía estén asegurados para siempre. Quiera Di-s que nuestras plegarias por la reconstrucción de Sión y la integridad de nuestra tierra y nuestro pueblo sean respondidas pronto. Amen.

Segun tomado de, https://es.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/426519/jewish/Como-Hemos-Sobrevivido.htm

El poder destructivo del habla negativa

El poder destructivo del habla negativa
por Ivette Alt Miller

No pierdas la esperanza con tus palabras.

“¡Nuestro sistema de salud no funciona, es irreparable!”, declaró en Facebook una amiga mientras esperaba en una sala de emergencias repleta de gente. Entendí su dolor y su frustración, ¿pero acaso tener que esperar un poco para que te vea un médico significa que todo nuestro sistema de salud “no funciona” y que es “irreparable”?

Últimamente los titulares han declarado que tantas cosas son “irreparables” que es un verdadero milagro que aún podamos seguir viviendo vidas normales. Un periódico declaró que las contraseñas de seguridad cibernéticas “son irreparables”. El líder de una importante compañía de seguros declaró que los sistemas de cobro de seguros “no funcionan y son irreparables”. Rutinariamente se afirma que los departamentos gubernamentales “no funcionan”. Muchos dicen que los sistemas de calificación en los establecimientos educacionales “son irreparables”.

Decir que algo “es irreparable” implica que has perdido la esperanza; que no tiene sentido intentar un cambio. Se debe desechar el sistema por completo. No puedes “mejorar” algo que no se puede reparar, sino que tienes que reemplazarlo.

Usar palabras demasiado duras afecta la forma en que percibimos el mundo y nos hace sentir todavía más negativos que antes. Un estudiante que todo el tiempo habla mal de su escuela eventualmente se sentirá peor estudiando en ella. Una mujer que rutinariamente describe a su esposo con los peores términos, le tendrá aún mayor aversión.

El habla influye sobre nuestros pensamientos tanto para bien como para mal, pero los investigadores descubrieron que “lo malo es más fuerte que lo bueno”. Ese fue el título de un trascendental artículo que escribió en el año 2001 el Profesor Roy F. Baumeister de la Universidad Case Western Reserve. El Profesor Baumeister descubrió que las personas están programadas para prestar mayor atención a las advertencias y descripciones negativas que a las palabras positivas. Esto se conoce como “retroalimentación negativa”: los comentarios y las palabras negativas tienen mayor impacto que las palabras positivas.

El hecho de describir aquellas condiciones que nos frustran o nos desagradan como cosas “irreparables”, es algo que se alimenta del lenguaje de desesperanza y desesperación, no del cambio. Hacer esto ignora lo que sí es reparable y envía el mensaje falso de que no hay nada positivo.

La Torá tiene una visión completamente diferente. Ella nos alienta a no darnos nunca por vencidos, sino a trabajar para encontrar la forma de mejorar las cosas. En vez de dar todo por perdido al decir que las cosas “son irreparables”, el judaísmo nos alienta a involucrarnos en los problemas y a pensar de qué manera podemos ayudar.

Rabí Tarfón vivió en Israel, en la ciudad de Lod en el siglo I AC, durante una época de tumultos políticos y represión religiosa, cuando las autoridades romanas perseguían a los judíos. Sin embargo, en sus obras no hay ningún rastro de fatalismo. Él es famoso por haber dicho: “No se te pide que completes la tarea; sin embargo, no eres libre para desentenderte de ella” (Pirkei Avot 2:21). Incluso cuando parece imposible reparar por completo la situación, tenemos el deber de esforzarnos al máximo y marcar una diferencia. Él no se dio por vencido y no describió la situación como “irreparable”.

Podemos empezar por ser más cuidadosos con nuestras palabras. Expresar con exactitud lo que realmente queremos decir nos obliga a pensar y entender qué es realmente lo que nos molesta. Por lo tanto, la próxima vez que sientas la tentación de describir una situación como algo “irreparable”, busca una palabra un poco más apropiada para describirla. ¿El centro de atención al cliente es un poco ineficiente? ¿Esa situación es injusta o desagradable? ¿Sospechas que alguien es parcial o no está capacitado? ¿Una situación te hizo perder tiempo, sentirte menospreciado?

Todas estas descripciones dejan abierta la posibilidad de cambio e implican que los problemas pueden abordarse y mejorarse.

Segun tomado de, https://www.aishlatino.com/a/s/El-poder-destructivo-del-habla-negativa.html?s=mm

¿Por qué son tan poderosas las palabras?

Related image

por Becky Krinsky

Una palabra tiene el poder de construir o de destruir a una persona.

Diario Judío México – Es difícil entender el concepto de que lo que son en sí las palabras. Las palabras son sonidos que se las lleva el aire, no se pueden ver, ni tocar, y aunque se busquen, no se pueden encontrar a menos de que se escriban y entonces se conviertan en testigos impresos de lo que se ha querido expresar.

Las palabras que se escuchan… se quedan marcadas en el corazón como si fueran un tatuaje permanente. Por eso se dice que las palabras salen del alma y llegan directamente al corazón. Las palabras no se olvidan. Una vez que salen… ya no regresan, aunque se pida mil veces perdon.

Cuando las palabras son expresadas con sinceridad y con amor, son nobles y positivas, entonces la persona que las escucha, se siente querida, validada y valiosa. Por el otro lado cunado las palabras son dichas con arrogancia o con enojo, se convierten en sonidos crueles, amargos llenos de crítica y resentimientos.

El corazón de la persona que escucha estas palabras ofensivas, con tonos negativos se estremece, y se lastima. Este corazón, se llena con dolor. Entonces, el amor propio de la persona que ha sido ofendida se agria y pierde su conexión con la persona que la afecto y eventualmente también se rompe las relación alegre y bondadosa con su mundo.

Las palabras se pueden describir como “un puente” que conecta a la persona con el mundo físico/material y con su alma, el mundo espiritual y emocional. Las palabras salen de lo más íntimo del ser, y llegan a lo más profundo de la persona que las escucha.

Las palabras son un regalo de los humanos, que traducen los pensamientos y hacen decretos concretos de las opiniones propias. Las palabras son los sonidos que le dan sentido a las ideas que habitan en la mente.

Estos sonidos abstractos que nadie ve y que todos entienden, elevan al ser, le dan la oportunidad de comunicarse, de compartir y de enseñar el increíble mundo interno que cada quien lleva dentro.

Las palabras hablan de los sentimientos personales. Estas son la expresión directa de la espiritualidad que cada individuo tiene. Las palabras son, la representación de la persona. Definen la intención y la calidad de su comunicación. Bien es dicho que la vida y la muerte de una persona se encuentran en la boca de la persona que habla. Las palabras son un arma delicada, hay que tener plena conciencia de su valor y desde luego, aprenderlas a utilizar con conciencia y responsabilidad.

Si las palabras son tan delicadas y estas son la voz de los pensamientos personales, entonces para tener palabras positivas, nobles y constructivas hay que cuidar la calidad de los pensamientos. Cada quien es responsable de lo que piensa, por lo tanto, tiene que luchar para no permitir que los malos pensamientos confundan y corroan su alma.

La receta


Valor de las palabras


  • Conciencia – reconocer el poder y el alcance que tienen las palabras
  • Responsabilidad – obligación personal para comunicarse efectivamente
  • Gentileza – suavidad y nobleza al hablar
  • Cuidado – recordar que una vez que se dice una palabra no se puede olvidar
  • Agradecimiento – gratitud por tener la posibilidad y el poder de hablar

Afirmación positiva para utilizar las palabras apropiadamente.

Mis palabras son valiosas y poderosas. Las cuido y cuando las utilizo busco hacer el bien y comunicarme con prudencia. Mis palabras son mis embajadoras que me permiten enseñar el mundo interno que llevo dentro. Reconozco que con mis palabras puedo levantar, motivar, sanar e inspirar pero que también puedo destruir, lastimar y herir a las personas que me escuchan. Mis palabras son mis sentimientos y mi responsabilidad. Yo soy mis palabras.

Que se aprende del valor de las palabras:

  1. Las palabras hablan de uno mismo. Es importante escuchar lo que otros hablan porque asi es fácil reconocer el interior de su ser. Cuando la persona reconoce su valor, se torna en un ser que habla con palabras prudentes y sinceras.
  2. Las palabras son puentes entre el alma de las personas. Estas salen del corazón y llegan al corazón. Son abstractas, no se pueden ver ni tocar, por lo que llegan al alma sin obstrucciones.
  3. Hay que hablar con las mismas palabras que uno desea que le hablen. Responsabilidad y conciencia son ingredientes básicos cuando se refiere al hablar. Las palabras hablan todo lo que la persona piensa, no hablan de la persona que las escucha.

Tú eres dueño de tus pensamientos y decides que palabras quieres decir. Construye puentes de conexión y amor. No Lastimes, ni ofendas al hablar.

Segun tomado de, https://diariojudio.com/ticker/por-que-son-tan-poderosas-las-palabras/304732/

A Command to Cancel the Commandments

by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Halacha deals with human life on two levels, the intellectual and the emotional. Life is the constant interaction between the two. To deny one of them is to deny life itself. Halachic demands must therefore function in a dialectical setting. Sometimes they must respond to cold, intellectual human calculation, and other times they must provide guidance during emotional upheavals in life. Mostly, they attempt to bring some purpose into the emotional condition of man so as to return him to the ways of reason and religious thinking.

Only in one case does Halacha allow man’s emotions to have the upper hand with hardly any restraint demanded, or even suggested.

One whose dead relative lies in front of him is exempt from the recital of the Shema and from prayer and from Tefillin and from all positive precepts laid down in the Torah. (Berachoth 17b)

This is a remarkable and revolutionary ruling which runs contrary to conventional halachic thinking. Why would a person whose dead relative is not yet buried be exempt from all precepts? Were the mitzvoth not given to be observed at all times? Since when is one permitted to cancel the commandments?

Moreover, would the fulfillment of mitzvoth at this hour not be of tremendous religious and therapeutic meaning? Would it not be Judaism’s obligation to step in and offer man consolation by demanding his religious commitment and asking him to be even more particular in his devotion to God? Only in that way could he deal with his loss. Why relieve man of his religious obligations at the very time that he is most in need of it?

Even more astonishing is the fact that Halacha’s leniency does not merely allow the person to discontinue the mitzvoth but insists that the person does so. It forbids the Jew to observe the precepts.

By reflecting more deeply, one cannot but marvel at Halacha’s profound insight into human nature. By recognizing the full emotional implications of having lost a relative, Halacha allows and even demands a most unusual condition: momentary heresy.

During the time after death has occurred and burial has not yet taken place, i.e. “when the dead is (literally) still in front of us,” there is no way that man can be fully religious. At this hour, doubt in the justice of God often sets in, accompanied with questions about the very existence of God. How could God have done this to me? Why did He cause my loved one to die? Why should I continue to believe in Him? The mourner’s fright and confusion at this moment are too overwhelming for him to accept any rational argument that, after all, God does exist and knows what He is doing. Halacha tolerates these torturous thoughts and does not try to repress them. By doing so, it reflects great compassion for the suffering human being. “It permitted the mourner to have his way for a while and has ruled that the latter is relieved from all mitzvoth.”[1] Although Halacha is convinced of the eternal existence of the human soul as well as God’s absolute justice, it fully recognizes man’s emotional devastation at this hour and allows him to have heretical views and even act on them: a temporary exemption from the yoke of Heaven.[2]

It may well be that Halacha alludes to something even deeper: By insisting that man stop observing the commandments, it warns him not to fall victim to constant religious certainty. It is impossible for even the most religious person not to have strong doubts about God’s justice, or even His existence, when confronted with death and suffering. Not having these doubts renders authentic religiosity impossible. When one has no doubts, one cannot have certitude. Doubt proves that one is serious about faith. The quest for certainty surely blocks the search for meaning.  So, how can one ask the mourner to say a bracha or a tefilla when it is impossible for him to back up any of these words? Those who convince themselves always to be sure and never to doubt fall prey to hypocrisy.[3]

Only after the burial, when the dead is no longer before the mourner, can spiritual healing begin. From that moment onward the mourner is again fully obligated to observe all precepts. Certainly his doubts are still there. But at this stage, by demanding full participation in all the commandments once again, Halacha applies its golden rule of “Na’aseh Venishma” (“we shall do” preceding “we shall hear,” as uttered by the Israelites at Sinai).Judaism’s recognition of God is not the triumphant outcome of philosophical deduction. It results from the performance of mitzvoth. Through the observance of the commandments we perceive the Commander. In doing, one perceives. In carrying out the word of the Torah, man is ushered back into the everlasting covenant and into the belief of God’s presence. The divine sings in the mitzvoth. After burial, once the shock of what happened has lost some of its impact, Halacha asks man again to make use of his reason. It appeals to his neshama and reminds him that by definition he is a homo religiosus and therefore has no escape from God and His will.[4] The healing process will surely take a long time, but it is set in motion the moment the dead has been buried. There is then a need to go back to life and recognize that one lives in the presence of the Almighty.


[1] See observations made in Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik’s Eulogy for the Talner Rebbe, Rabbi M.Z.Twersky z.l., Shiure Harav, by Joseph Epstein., page 67. (Ktav Publishing House, NJ, 1974.)

[2] See Tosafoth’s remarkable observation (Berachoth 17b, “Patur Me-kriath Shema”) that one can only observe mitzvoth when one is busy with life and not with death.

[3] The conventional reason for dispensation from precepts at this hour is the halachic ruling, “Osek be-mitzvoth patur mi-mitzvoth.” When one is fully occupied with a mitzvah, in our case the preparations for the burial, one is exempt from all other mitzvoth since one cannot perform two mitzvoth at the same time. This however does not explain why, according to most authorities, other relatives who are not fully occupied with the burial are also forbidden to pray etc. Our interpretation fully explains why this is so.

[4] It should be noted that the mourner is only forbidden to observe the positive precepts. The prohibitions continue to apply at all times since dispensation from them would create havoc in the person and destroy the fabric of Jewish society. One may also argue that observance of the prohibitions are not so much to fill the need to recognize God, but more to prevent negative conditions which make this recognition much harder. Obviously the mourner, who is already shaken in his beliefs, should not have his doubts reinforced.

As taken from, https://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/a-command-to-cancel-the-commandments/?utm_source=Subscribers&utm_campaign=a0fd07a89f-Weekly_Thoughts_to_Ponder_campaign_TTP_548_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dd05790c6d-a0fd07a89f-242341409

Lecciones Judías más Importantes

por Diego Edelberg

De las Once Lecciones Judías Más Importantes de la Vida: la #7 es mi preferida

El Shabat pasado fue mi última tefilá en Ruaj Ami como líder espiritual de la comunidad. Los cambios nunca son fáciles y requieren enfrentar el miedo. Escribí hace 5 años sobre la decisión de comenzar en Ruaj Ami en la publicación ¡Shana Tova 5776! ¡Atrévete a cambiar! Dicha publicación es muy preciada para mí porque me permite recordar el temor que me daba cambiar y cómo lo enfrenté. Hoy leo lo que escribí y recuerdo lo que me llevó vencer mis miedos, mirar a los ojos a mis fantasmas y enfrentarlos para crecer desde allí (¡les recomiendo lean la publicación si no lo hicieron!).

Cuando uno debe pararse frente a su comunidad y decir las últimas palabras, es casi la misma sensación que uno tiene al escribir un testamento para su familia. Es la última chance que uno tiene para expresar gratitud, pedir disculpas y compartir las enseñanzas más profundas que uno ha aprendido sobre la vida judía como legado con su amada kehila. Si tuvieran que escribir hoy mismo un testamento o legado para sus seres queridos con las lecciones más importantes, ¿qué dirían? Como imaginarán responder esta pregunta fue tremendamente difícil.

Sin embargo, mientras ordenaba mis ideas llego a mi email la última publicación del Rabino Jonathan Sacks. Quienes me leen saben que tengo un panteón de grandes maestro/as y entre ellos Sacks ocupa un lugar importante. Sú última publicación contiene un video y se titula «Las Cosas que La Vida me ha enseñado sobre el Judaísmo«. De pronto tenía ante mis ojos lo que quería comunicar perfectamente ordenado y con la elocuencia y sabiduría de uno de los pensadores judíos más importantes. Así que tomé sus ideas, las traduje al castellano, las separé en #10 enseñanzas, agregué mis propios comentarios a los de Sack y sumé una última idea más, la #11. Espero estas ideas los acompañen toda la vida porque estoy convencido que son tan profundas que no tienen fecha de vencimiento. Aquí van…

#1 Nunca Te Avergüences de Ser Judío

Nuestra gente ha visto y ha contribuido tanto con la historia de la humanidad; nuestro libro sagrado es la piedra fundamental de la sociedad Occidental en tanto sus narrativas de origen y leyes de comportamiento social que propone; tenemos una resiliencia y capacidad extraordinaria no solo de sobrevivir sino prosperar, que deberías portar tu judaísmo como un honor, un orgullo y una responsabilidad. Algunas personas desprecian a los judíos: siempre lo han hecho y temo decir que siempre lo harán. Siempre habrá quienes encuentren más fácil echarte la culpa de las tragedias del mundo en forma reactiva que ser proactivos en responsabilizarse por contribuir al mundo. En cuyo caso, cuando te encuentres con gente que te desprecia por ser judío, recuerda este primer punto y camina erguido, de modo que, para mirarte a los ojos, se vean obligados a mirar hacia arriba.

#2 Nunca comprometas tus principios por los demás

Groucho Marx dijo, «tengo mis principios y si no le gustan…¡tengo otros!» Este chiste me recuerda lo opuesto de esta segunda lección. No comprometas tu Kashrut (del modo que tu la entiendes y practicas) o cualquier otra práctica judía importante para ti solo porque te encuentras entre no judíos o con judíos que no son religiosos y creen que tus rituales son de una persona inferior a ellos. Los no judíos respetan a los judíos que respetan al judaísmo. Sienten vergüenza ajena por los judíos que están avergonzados por el Judaísmo. Así que esfuérzate por armar tu teología y tus rituales judíos y no los comprometas por satisfacer a nadie.

#3 Nunca menosprecies a los demás

La Tora enseña que todos venimos del primer ser humano creado betzelem elohim, a imagen y semejanza de lo divino. Todos los seres humanos tienen una parte de Dios. Por lo tanto nunca pienses que ser judío te da permiso para menospreciar a los no judíos. Nunca pienses que ser un judío religioso te da derecho a despreciar a los judíos no religiosos. Tampoco creas que porque eres un judío no religioso tienes derecho a menospreciar a los judíos religiosos. Nunca pienses que si naciste de madre judía eres superior a quien eligió el judaísmo por elección. Y si no naciste de una familia judía y has elegido el judaísmo para tu vida seguramente sepas mucho más de teología y rituales judíos que el judío de nacimiento y eso no te da derecho a menospreciarlo tampoco. Recuerda siempre que Moshe, el profeta judío más importante fue la persona más humilde de su generación cuando tenía todas las oportunidades para sentirse la gran cosa. Pero atención: la humildad no significa auto-abatimiento o abnegación de tu valor en la vida. La verdadera humildad es la capacidad de ver el bien en otros sin preocuparte por ti mismo.

#4 Nunca dejes de aprender

El Rabino Sacks cuenta que una vez conoció a una mujer que tenía 103 años y que aún parecía joven. Le preguntó, cuál era su secreto. Ella respondió: «Nunca tengas miedo de aprender algo nuevo en la vida«. Entonces se dió cuenta que el aprendizaje es la verdadera prueba de la edad. Si estás dispuesto a aprender, transformarte, repensar tus ideas, crecer y cambiar puedes tener 103 y aún ser joven. Si no quieres aprender, transformarte, repensar tus ideas, crecer y cambiar puedes tener 23 años y ya ser un viejo.

#5 Nunca confundas lo que es justo con la justicia propia

¡Qué difícil que es esto! Lo que es justo y la justicia propia suenan similares, pero son opuestos. Los justos ven lo bueno en las personas; los que buscan justicia propia ven lo malo. Los justos te hacen sentir más grande; los que buscan justicia propia necesitan hacerte sentir pequeño. Lo justo elogia; la justicia propia critica. Los justos son generosos, la justicia propia es rencorosa y prejuiciosa. Una vez que logres entender esta diferencia, mantente lejos de los que buscan justicia propia sin importar la forma en la que viene: derecha e izquierda, religiosos o seculares, etc. Recuerda que nuestra Tora enseña tzedek tzedek tirdof, justicia justa perseguirás. La justicia no tiene sabor, goce ni placer. De lo contrario no es justicia sino venganza. Por lo tanto trabaja tu humildad para entender que algo puede ser justo y sin embargo desafía tu justicia propia. Cuando llegues a ese punto habrás escalado el escalón más elevado. Gánate el respeto de gente que respetas.

#6 Cada vez que hagas una mitzvá, detente y sé consciente

Cada mitzvá está ahí para enseñarte algo y eso hace toda la diferencia al hacer una pausa y recordar por qué lo estás haciendo. El judaísmo sin sentido, sin reflexión, sin conciencia y sin kavaná (dirección del corazón) no es bueno para el alma. Cuando estés rezando, reflexiona cuidadosamente sobre el significado de las palabras que estás diciendo. Recuerda también que al rezar eres parte de una sinfonía coral de cuatro mil años, formada por las voces de todos los judíos de todos los países a lo largo de todos los siglos que han dicho estas mismas palabras. Algunos dijeron estas plegarias en medio del sufrimiento; otros las gritaron cuando se enfrentaron al exilio y la expulsión; algunos incluso las murmuraron por miedo en los campos de concentración. Son palabras santificadas por lágrimas. Hoy en gran parte del mundo y gracias a Dios las estamos diciendo en libertad. Los rezos de nuestros antepasados ​​se han hecho realidad para nosotros. Por eso nuestros rezos a través de sus palabras los honran tanto como a Dios, porque sin ellos hoy no seríamos judíos, diríamos otros rezos en lugar de estos, y sin nosotros siguiendo su tradición, sus esperanzas habrían sido en vano.

#7 No te preocupes ni sientas vergüenza si no puedes mantenerte al día con la sabiduría y las enseñanzas del judaísmo que se hablan en tu comunidad

Aquí va una confesión para todos los que me leen y me elogian diciendo cuánto se o cuán bellas son mis publicaciones: ¡no hay día que no sienta algo de vergüenza de no saber algo esencial del judaísmo que creo debería saber! La buena noticia es que no estoy solo y tú tampoco. Nadie sabe todo del judaísmo. De hecho, aquí va otro consejo importante para evaluar a tu maestro: si te dice que sabe todo y tiene todas las respuestas lo mejor es que salgas corriendo de allí porque ese no es un maestro sino un loco estafador. No eres el primero ni último judío que no logrará leer todo lo que los judíos escribieron (para hacerlo deberías vivir varias vidas y hablar en forma fluida unos 14 idiomas, como mínimo). Por eso la tradición judía no te entrenará para tener respuestas sino para llegar a la pregunta que necesitas hacerte. Pero debes atravesar el miedo de creer que deberías ser Rabbi Akiva para estudiar Tora. No tengas vergüenza de aún no saber hebreo como te gustaría, de no poder entender a los comentaristas judíos más importantes, de no haber nunca leído a tal Rabino o tal obra judía de la que todos hablan, de no conocer aún el significado de todos los rezos y de ser un ignorante de Cabalá, Musar, Talmud, Halajá o lo que sea. A lo largo de mi vida no me he cansado de escuchar miles de excusas y pedidos de disculpa por no saber. ¡Basta! Yo tampoco nací sabiendo todo. Nadie nace sabiendo todo ni muere tampoco sabiéndolo todo. A los judíos les encanta contar biografías de grandes Rabinos que a los 10 años sabían todo el Talmud y a los 20 ya tenían super poderes. Si eso te deprime y te aleja entonces no le prestes atención. Sigue adelante con tu propio viaje de aprendizaje y desarrollo espiritual. Sin prisa y sin pausa. No te compares con nadie más que tú mismo. Tu eres tu propia competencia. Igual que tú, siento que hay tanto que no sé y mucho más que nunca sabré. Así que guarda las excusas, disculpas, vergüenzas, miedos, sensaciones de inadecuación en el cajón y sigue estudiando, sigue aprendiendo, agradece cada granito de arena que logras incorporar a tu desarrollo intelectual y emocional judío y…¡compártelo sin soberbia sino en humildad!

#8 Siempre estate dispuesto a compartir tu judaísmo

En Shabat o en los Jaguim, invita a tu hogar. Una vez por semana, aprende con personas que saben menos que tú sobre el judaísmo. Comparte en humildad y alegría tu tradición. Sin soberbia, sin sarcasmo ni burlándote sino con curiosidad, asombro, reverencia y amor. Contagia el judaísmo a otras personas. Esto no significa justificarte ni sermonear. Significa explicar cuando el interés del que pregunta es genuino, respetuoso y amoroso (y no cuando te están juzgando, vuelve al #2 para esto). Para entender lo que significa compartir debes entender la diferencia entre lo material y lo espiritual: con cosas materiales -como la riqueza o el poder- cuanto más compartes, menos tienes. Con las cosas espirituales -como el conocimiento, la amistad, el amor o la celebración- cuanto más compartes, más tienes.

#9 Nunca seas impaciente con los detalles de la vida judía

Los rabinos son intolerantes ante la idea del «da lo mismo». Cada ritual judío tiene un cómo, un qué, un dónde, un cuánto y un porqué (bueno, no todo tienen un «porqué» pero justamente de eso se trata la emuna). No hay nada peor para tu espiritualidad judía que pensar que todo es «más o menos lo mismo» y que si digo estas palabras en lugar de estas otras «da igual» y a quién le importa total Dios no está en los detalles. ¡Por el contrario Dios habita en los detalles! La obsesión con el detalle hace que no caigamos en la indiferencia de nada y que todo este saturado de omnisignificado. El judaísmo es la poesía de lo mundano, de las cosas que de otra manera daríamos por sentado. La práctica judía es la coreografía sagrada de la vida cotidiana.

#10 Dios vive en el espacio que hacemos para Su presencia

Cada mitzvá que hacemos, cada rezo que decimos, cada acto que emprendemos, es una forma de hacer espacio para Dios. Es bien conocida la enseñanza que dice, «¿Dónde está Dios? Donde lo dejes entrar». Recuerda también que el Rabino Neil Gillman (Z.L) nos enseñó una pregunta aún mejor: «¿Cuándo está Dios? Cuando lo evocas, allí está».

#11 Comienza con el final en mente

Quienes hayan leído «Los 7 hábitos de la gente altamente efectiva» de Stephen Covey reconocerán que este es el hábito #2 de su libro. En nuestra tradición este hábito tiene otra connotación. Significa que cada vez que estes por decir o hacer algo piensa en lo que significará al final de tu vida lo que estás haciendo y las consecuencias que tendrá. Tu nombre vendrá acompañado de tu decir y hacer. Por eso tengo la costumbre de comenzar cada shiva al regresar del cementerio con la Mishna de Pirkei Avot

רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, שְׁלשָׁה כְתָרִים הֵם, כֶּתֶר תּוֹרָה וְכֶתֶר כְּהֻנָּה וְכֶתֶר מַלְכוּת, וְכֶתֶר שֵׁם טוֹב עוֹלֶה עַל גַּבֵּיהֶן
Rabí Shimón dice: hay tres coronas: la corona de la Torá, la corona del sacerdocio y la corona de la realeza, más la corona de una buena reputación (literalmente del buen nombre) está por encima de ellas.

Pirkei Avot 1:13

Dedica unos momentos para imaginar tú shiva, el día que ya no estés físicamente en este mundo. Eso fue lo que hice yo al despedirme de mi comunidad. Como si fuera una pequeña muerte quería pensar qué quedaría de mi nombre cuando ya no esté ahí. En su libro Jovot HaTalmidim el Rabino Kalonymus Kalman Shapira enseña que la mejor lección es aquella que el estudiante realiza cuando su maestro ya no está presente. Como padre, es mi deseo que mis hijos recuerden la importancia de ser buenas personas y amar su judaísmo el día que no esté en este mundo para recordárselos. Lo mismo deseo con cada alma que me conecto, ya sea como fue en Ruaj Ami como lo fue y es con otras comunidades e incluso con cada lector de este blog. La intención de imaginar tu muerte, el día que ya no estés para recordarle al mundo lo que crees o sientes no es un ejercicio para deprimirte. Todo lo contrario. Es para que pienses cómo quieres ser recordado. Seriamente respóndete: «¿Qué quieres que evoque tu nombre?» Para lograr lo que imaginas que tu nombre evocará cuando ya no estés empieza hoy y no el día que te vas. Por eso, siempre empieza con el final en mente.

Read more at http://www.judiosyjudaismo.com/2019/07/las-11-lecciones-judias-mas-importantes-de-la-vida-la-7-es-mi-preferida/#bupLTVeX51bHKy5j.99

El Sendero Misterioso

por Gal Einai

Un Remedio Singular para los Accidentes Trágicos

Antes de que el Pueblo Judío entre a la Tierra de Israel, Di-s le ordenó a Moisés que designe seis ciudades de refugio. Las leyes de la Torá de las ciudades de refugio son singulares. Si una persona mata a otra accidentalmente debe huir a una de estas ciudades, tres a cada lado del río Jordán. Mientras se encuentre dentro de los límites de la ciudad, ningún pariente del difunto tiene permitido dañarlo. Si quiere estar a salvo, el perpetrador de ese crimen involuntario debe permanecer en la ciudad de refugio sin abandonar sus límites hasta la muerte del Sumo Sacerdote.
La Vida y la Muerte en Manos de la Lengua Enseñan nuestros sabios que cuando decimos algo malo acerca de otra persona, tres personas han sido asesinadas: el que habla, el que escucha y el sujeto de quien se habla. Aunque la mayoría de las personas no asesinarían intencionalmente a nadie, casi todos somos culpables de matar involuntariamente a otra persona a través del habla, tanto diciéndole directamente cosas hirientes como hablando mal de él, a pesar de no tener ninguna intención de herirlo. El Baal Shem Tov enseño que la Torá es aplicable a toda persona en todo tiempo y lugar. Como tal, todos necesitamos huir a una ciudad de refugio, donde podamos protegernos y rectificar este trágico pecado.

El Refugio de la Torá

Espiritualmente, la máxima ciudad de refugio es la Torá, como Di-s le ordenó a Ioshúa: «y la estudiarás día y noche». Cuando corremos hacia la Torá, (en hebreo ratz, semejante a la palabra «voluntad», ratzón. Cuando una persona corre hacia algún objetivo, está activando una voluntad muy fuerte.) estamos expresando un deseo muy fuerte de sumergirnos completamente en sus profundidades, refugiándonos en sus palabras reparadoras. Cuando nuestra conciencia está completamente alineada con la Torá, ya no somos vulnerables a los daños y más importante aún, ya no estamos en una situación mental que nos posibilite o de cabida a herir a otro, incluso involuntariamente.

El Modelo Abstracto

La cabalá analiza los fenómenos descriptos en la Torá relacionándolos entre si. La palabra hebrea para «refugio», miklat, aparece 10 veces en esta sección de la Torá en dos grupos de cinco. El primer concepto comparable que viene inmediatamente a la mente es el de los Diez Mandamientos, que también fueron entregados en dos tablas de 5.El hecho que la palabra miklat aparezca 10 veces asocia a las ciudades de refugio con la esencia del número 10. Este número perfecto corresponde a las diez sefirot, las emanaciones Divinas a través de las cuales Di-s creó el mundo, y a los diez poderes del alma, que debemos rectificar e iluminar con la luz Divina de nuestras almas. Debemos activar los diez poderes de nuestra alma para correr hacia la ciudad de refugio e incorporar su mensaje.

Un Refugio Personal y Otro Impersonal

Como ya se mencionó, la palabra miklat aparece en dos grupos de cinco. El primero de estos grupos aparece al comienzo de la discusión de los asesinatos involuntarios. En este grupo, la palabra miklat aparece tres veces vinculada a la palabra hebrea ir, «ciudad», y dos veces como lemiklat, que significa «al refugio». Todas estas referencias son impersonales.A continuación de esta discusión inicial del asesinato accidental, la Torá continúa relatando las leyes de la persona que mató intencionalmente, retomando luego nuevamente la discusión de las muertes accidentales. Pero esta segunda vez miklat aparece en un contexto personal, utilizando la forma miklató, «su refugio».

La Ruta de Dos Manos

Además de refugio, la raíz de miklat, kuf- lamed-tet, tiene otros dos significados: absorción e integración. Ambos están incluidos en nuestra comprensión de la función de la ciudad de refugio.El proceso de absorción comienza cuando una persona ingresa a una nueva realidad absorbido por el nuevo ambiente que lo rodea. Lentamente se va familiarizando con sus nuevos vecindarios, comienza a amarlos y aprende cómo funcionar alegre y efectivamente en ellos. Ha sido absorbido dentro de la luz abarcadora de su nueva realidad. Esta absorción es relativamente impersonal, correspondiente al primer grupo de las 5 palabras de «refugio» ya mencionado.El proceso de integración es una dinámica diferente e incluso opuesta. Integrar una nueva realidad es absorberla dentro de uno, dejándola penetrar y pernear nuestro ser. La integración es totalmente personal, ingresando dentro de la psique de la persona y cambiando su forma de vida. Esto, por supuesto, corresponde al segundo grupo de 5.

La Misteriosa Señal de Tránsito

En el Talmud estudiamos que en los tiempos bíblicos había señales de tránsito esparcidas literalmente por toda la Tierra de Israel señalando hacia la ciudad de refugio más cercana. Cada cartel tenía dos palabras: Miklat Miklat. Su valor numérico es 179, un número primo, que al estar dos veces suma 358, la guematria de «Mashíaj». Vemos así que la señal del camino apuntando hacia la ciudad de refugio, en realidad apunta a una nueva conciencia, Mesiánica. Cuando una persona huye a la ciudad de refugio –una nueva conciencia de Torá y particularmente su dimensión interior, la mesiánica- primero debe ser absorbida completamente y enamorarse de ella, sin querer irse jamás. En este estado inicial, la Torá rodea todo su ser y su conciencia y no es de una importancia crítica que entienda todo lo que estudia. El sentimiento interior más importante que debe desarrollar es que se le ha brindado luz y sabiduría Divinas infinitas como un regalo inmerecido. Cuanto más desarrolla este sentimiento, más se va absorbiendo dentro de la conciencia mesiánica de la Torá.Para que su nueva conciencia mesiánica permanezca eternamente como parte de su ser, protegiéndolo de dañarse y de dañar a los demás, la persona debe redirigir su experiencia, integrándola concientemente dentro de su ser. (El deseo de integrar el objeto que amamos y deseamos dentro de nuestro ser es la lógica segunda etapa de este proceso.)El texto clásico de jasidut, el Tania, explica que sólo la Torá puede rodear completamente a una persona y simultáneamente encontrarse totalmente dentro de ella misma.Esto es porque la sabiduría de la Torá es infinita. No es así el caso de la sabiduría finita mundana que la persona puede no entenderla, en cuyo caso la sabiduría lo rodea por fuera, o si por el contrario la comprende totalmente la sabiduría está sólo dentro suyo. Como es limitada, no puede rodear a la persona y a la vez estar adentro simultáneamente. Sólo la sabiduría infinita incluye ambas dinámicas de absorción e integración. Este pensamiento está reflejado en los Salmos, 1:2, que describe a la persona feliz que se conduce en los senderos de la Torá. La primera parte del versículo reza: «…su deseo está puesto solamente en la Torá de Di-s». Esta es la etapa de la absorción. La Torá es de Di-s y el único deseo de la persona es ser absorbida dentro de ella. La segunda parte del versículo dice: «y en su Torá se sumergirá día y noche». En este punto la Torá ya ha sido integrada en el alma de la persona, más todavía cuando es llamada «su Torá», del propio estudiante.

Cinco Manifestaciones Mesiánicas

Existen cinco niveles del alma. El Mashíaj asciende de nivel en nivel, hasta alcanzar la cumbre de su misión mesiánica. Cada uno de los grupos de cinco niveles de absorción e integración en la ciudad de refugio apunta a uno de estos niveles. Cuando corremos hacia la dimensión interior mesiánica de la Torá, somos absorbidos en ella y la integramos dentro de nuestras almas, ingresamos a un estado de conciencia mesiánica, que rectifica nuestras almas y trae la verdadera redención al mundo entero.

Segun tomado de, http://www.galeinai.org/GalEinaiv1/2018/07/12/el-sendero-misterioso/


by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

The Israelites were almost within sight of the Promised Land. They had successfully waged their first battles. They had just won a victory over the Midianites. There is a new tone to the narrative. We no longer hear the querulous complaints that had been the bass note of so much of the wilderness years.

We know why. That undertone was the sound of the generation, born in slavery, that had left Egypt. By now, almost forty years have passed. The second generation, born in freedom and toughened by conditions in the desert, have a more purposeful feel about them. Battle-tried, they no longer doubt their ability, with God’s help, to fight and win.

Yet it is at just this point that a problem arises, different in kind from those that had gone before. The people as a whole now have their attention focused on the destination: the land west of the river Jordan, the place that even the spies had confirmed to be “flowing with milk and honey” (Num. 13:27).

The members of the tribes of Reuben and Gad, though, begin to have different thoughts. Seeing that the land through which they were travelling was ideal for raising cattle, they decide that they would prefer to stay there, to the east of the Jordan, and propose this to Moses. Unsurprisingly, he is angry at the suggestion: “Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, ‘Are your brothers to go to war while you stay here? Why would you discourage the Israelites from going over into the land the Lord has given them?’” (Num. 32:6–7). He reminds them of the disastrous consequences of the earlier discouragement on the part of the spies. The whole nation will suffer. This decision would shown not only that they are ambivalent about God’s gift of the land but also that they have learned nothing from history.

The tribes do not argue with his claim. They accept its validity, but they point out that his concern is not incompatible with their objectives. They suggest a compromise:

Then they came up to him and said, “We would like to build sheepfolds for our flocks and towns for our children. But we will then arm ourselves and go as an advance guard before the Israelites until we have established them in their home. Meanwhile our children will live in fortified cities, for protection from the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until every Israelite has received his inheritance. We will not receive any inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan, because our inheritance has come to us on the east side of the Jordan.” (Num. 32:16–19)

We are willing, in other words, to join the rest of the Israelites in the battles that lie ahead. Not only this, but we are prepared to be the nation’s advance guard, in the forefront of the battle. We are not afraid of combat, nor are we trying to evade our responsibilities to our people as a whole. It is simply that we wish to raise cattle, and for this, the land to the east of the Jordan is ideal. Warning them of the seriousness of their undertaking, Moses agrees. If they keep their word, they will be allowed to settle east of the Jordan. And so, indeed, it happened (Josh. 22:1–5).

That is the story on the surface. But as so often in the Torah, there are subtexts as well as texts. One in particular was noticed by the Sages, with their sensitivity to nuance and detail. Listen carefully to what the Reubenites and Gadites said: “Then they came up to him and said, ‘We would like to build sheepfolds for our flocks and towns for our children.’” Moses replied: “Build towns for your children, and sheepfolds for your flocks, but do what you have promised” (Num. 32:24).

The ordering of the nouns is crucial. The men of Reuben and Gad put property before people: they spoke of their flocks first, their children second.[1] Moses reversed the order, putting special emphasis on the children. As Rashi notes:

They paid more regard to their property than to their sons and daughters, because they mentioned their cattle before the children. Moses said to them: “Not so. Make the main thing primary and the subordinate thing secondary. First build cities for your children, and only then, folds for your flocks.” (Commentary to Num. 32:16)

A Midrash[2] makes the same point by way of an ingenious interpretation of a verse in Ecclesiastes: “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left” (Eccl. 10:2). The Midrash identifies “right” with Torah and life: “He brought the fire of a religion to them from his right hand” (Deut. 33:2). “Left,” by contrast, refers to worldly goods:

Long life is in her right hand;

In her left hand are riches and honour. (Prov. 3:16)

Hence, infers the Midrash, the men of Reuben and Gad put “riches and honour” before faith and posterity. Moses hints to them that their priorities are wrong. The Midrash continues: “The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said to them: ‘Seeing that you have shown greater love for your cattle than for human souls, by your life, there will be no blessing in it.’”

This turned out to be not a minor incident in the wilderness long ago, but rather, a consistent pattern throughout much of Jewish history. The fate of Jewish communities, for the most part, was determined by a single factor: their decision, or lack of decision, to put children and their education first. Already in the first century, Josephus was able to write: “The result of our thorough education in our laws, from the very dawn of intelligence, is that they are, as it were, engraved on our souls.”[3] The Rabbis ruled that “any town that lacks children at school is to be excommunicated” (Shabbat 119b). Already in the first century, the Jewish community in Israel had established a network of schools at which attendance was compulsory (Bava Batra 21a) – the first such system in history.

The pattern persisted throughout the Middle Ages. In twelfth-century France a Christian scholar noted: “A Jew, however poor, if he has ten sons, will put them all to letters, not for gain as the Christians do, but for the understanding of God’s law – and not only his sons, but his daughters too.”[4]

In 1432, at the height of Christian persecution of Jews in Spain, a synod was convened at Valladolid to institute a system of taxation to fund Jewish education for all.[5] In 1648, at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the first thing Jewish communities in Europe did to re-establish Jewish life was to re-organise the educational system. In their classic study of the shtetl, the small townships of Eastern Europe, Zborowski and Herzog write this about the typical Jewish family:

The most important item in the family budget is the tuition fee that must be paid each term to the teacher of the younger boys’ school. Parents will bend in the sky to educate their son. The mother, who has charge of household accounts, will cut the family food costs to the limit if necessary, in order to pay for her son’s schooling. If the worst comes to the worst, she will pawn her cherished pearls in order to pay for the school term. The boy must study, the boy must become a good Jew – for her the two are synonymous.[6]

In 1849, when Samson Raphael Hirsch became Rabbi in Frankfurt, he insisted that the community create a school before building a synagogue. After the Holocaust, the few surviving yeshiva heads and chassidic leaders concentrated on encouraging their followers to have children and build schools.[7]

It is hard to think of any other religion or civilisation that has so predicated its very existence on putting children and their education first. There have been Jewish communities in the past that were affluent and built magnificent synagogues – Alexandria in the first centuries of the Common Era is an example. Yet because they did not put children first, they contributed little to the Jewish story. They flourished briefly, then disappeared.

Moses’ implied rebuke to the tribes of Reuben and Gad is not a minor historical detail but a fundamental statement of Jewish priorities. Property is secondary, children primary. Civilisations that value the young stay young. Those that invest in the future have a future. It is not what we own that gives us a share in eternity, but those to whom we give birth and the effort we make to ensure that they carry our faith and way of life into the next generation.

Shabbat Shalom


[1] Note also the parallel between the decision of the leaders of Reuben and Gad and that of Lot, in Genesis 13:10–13. Lot too made his choice of dwelling place based on economic considerations – the prosperity of Sodom and the cities of the plain – without considering the impact the environment would have on his children.

[2] Numbers Rabbah 22:9.

[3] Josephus, Contra Apionem, ii, 177–178.

[4] Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1952), 78.

[5] Salo Baron, The Jewish Community (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1945), 2:171–173.

[6] Mark Zborowski and Elizabeth Herzog, Life Is with People: The Culture of the Shtetl (New York: Schocken, 1974), 87.

[7] My book on this subject is Jonathan Sacks, Will We Have Jewish Grandchildren? (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1994).

As taken from, http://rabbisacks.org/priorities-matot-5779/